Barnardo's has teamed up with King’s College London to find out what our support practitioners view as the most important issues facing young people.
Our in-depth research done in collaboration with academics from King’s College London analysed data from quarterly surveys of Barnardo’s frontline workers across the UK to assess what practitioners view as the most important issues facing young people, and how these issues changed between June 2019 and November 2021.
Our practitioners told us that children face a mental health emergency, heightened online dangers and a lack of support until reaching ‘crisis point’.
What does our evidence show?
Our joint research found that our practitioners are particularly concerned about five key issues facing young people:
1. Increasing mental health issues and insufficient support
Practitioners increasingly emphasised mental health concerns since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. New serious mental health issues are reportedly on the rise due to a lack of prevention work, social isolation during the pandemic, and anxiety about future prospects.
2. Poverty, financial instability, and inequality
Practitioners raised concerns about cuts to key support services, rising poverty levels, financial instability, and widening inequality. They also reported that the disruption to education has impacted young people’s learning, social development, and future employment prospects. Additionally, the care system was reported to be insufficiently supporting young people, particularly care leavers.
3. Potential exposure to sexual exploitation and online abuse
The concern about online exploitation and victimisation has grown since the pandemic. The focus of concern was mostly on how young people might be exposed to sexual exploitation and online abuse.
4. Lack of safety and cohesion in the home
Practitioners were concerned that vulnerable adolescents were trapped in homes with increasing conflict during COVID-19 restrictions. Instability in parent and carer mental health was also thought to have adversely impacted young people.
5. Poor transition between services for young people
Practitioners were concerned about the abrupt transition, or lack of transition, between services pre-18 and post-18. They highlighted that support services are needed to make provisions for young people aged 18 and over, especially those in the care system.
What needs to happen?
Our analysis of our practitioners’ perspectives has raised some urgent issues that must be addressed by policy-makers and other decision-makers. Here is a brief summary of our recommendations to improve the mental health, wellbeing, and livelihoods of the next generation.
- Resources should be directed to both preventative and treatment services to make sure all children and young people receive the support they need for their mental health and wellbeing. As part of this, the reach of Mental Health Support Teams should be increased to 100% of schools.
- The Government must recognise poverty as a cause of adverse experiences during childhood and provide financial support for those most at risk.
- Greater regulation of the internet is required to keep children and young people safe, including measures such as age verification, and technology companies taking a ‘safety by design’ approach.
- Reinstatement of community support services is needed to ensure parents, carers, and families can provide a cohesive and stable environment for young people. This should include the expansion of family hubs to every community.
- Young people should not be discharged from child services without the appropriate transition support in place and more youth services should extend to the age of 25 to allow more time for young people to transition to adult services. Family hubs should also be expanded to every community to support parents and carers and create better outcomes for children, young people and families.